Gourmet's latest book serves up authentic taste of Hangzhou

Sun Min, a food blogger in Hangzhou, recently published her second book celebrating the city's culinary culture from a bygone era, its variety and traditional dishes.

Sun Min, a food blogger in Hangzhou, recently published her second book celebrating the city’s culinary culture from a bygone era, its variety and traditional dishes.

It is more than just a cookbook. The foodie expert introduces nearly 60 home-style dishes categorized by Hangzhou’s four seasons, as well as local food traditions, such as the five “yellow” dishes at the Dragon Boat Festival and the steeping Chinese bayberry in Chinese baijiu (Chinese alcoholic beverage made from grain).

Sun believes its seasonal offerings, abundant ingredients and a well-balanced nutrition sheet characterize Hangzhou cuisine.

“There are a lot of herbs, wild plants and a lot of aquatic food. And the majority is made by steaming,” said the gifted gourmet guru.

“Hangzhou Taste from the Old Times,” a book recently published by Sun Min

A native born around the West Lake, Sun’s childhood memories are heavily related to the city’s street food, including youdun’er and glutinous rice rolls stuffed with youtiao (deep-fried dough stick). 

Youdun’er had been an extremely popular snack among school kids in the 1980s but now it is hard to find on the streets of Hangzhou. It is made by mixing shredded radish and preserved mustard in batter before being deep-fried in batter in a cylinder-shaped ladle until the crust gets crispy.

Glutinous rice rolls are another popular local morning snack. You can often find them on a morning food cart together with shaobing (baked flatbread), youtiao and soy milk.

“When we were young, three dishes were indispensable on tables of New Year’s Eve: the eight treasures rice (babao fan), a sweet soup cooked with fruit (tiangeng) and a savory egg dumpling soup,” Sun said.

For visitors coming to Hangzhou for the first time, Sun recommends classic time-honored restaurants around the West Lake area, such as Louwailou, Shanwaishan and Hangzhou Restaurant.

“I think for tourists these restaurants are embodied by Hangzhou’s history, culture and anecdotes that have lasted for 1,000 years. Prices are reasonable and the location is ideal to appreciate the beauty of the West Lake,” said Sun, who added that the newly established wanghong (web celebrity or online sensation) stores did not really represent the history of Hangzhou.

The first chapter of the book is dedicated to the wet markets of Hangzhou, where Sun had a lot of experience when dealing with farmers in the market.

“A supermarket for me is impersonal. Most of my knowledge with food and local traditions were learned from the vendors,” said Sun.

As Lixia, which falls on Saturday this year, marks the start of the summer, Shanghai Daily has picked out three simple Hangzhou dishes featured in Sun’s book. They are both easy to prepare and suitable to serve in the early dawn of summer.

Sun Min

Salted pepper seasoned potato pie 

Salted pepper seasoned potato pie  椒盐土豆

After the day of Lixia, residents in Hangzhou usually like to make salted pepper seasoned potato pies. Small potatoes, the size of a ping-pong ball, are ideal. 

Pick fresh ones so the taste is soft instead of crispy after cooking. To see if they are fresh, scratch the potato skins with your fingernail gently. Skins of the fresh ones are easily scraped off. Also pick those with similar sizes.

Steam the potatoes after washing. Use a turner to squash the potatoes when they are still hot. Pan-fry the potatoes until each side turns golden and the skins get crispy. 

Add salted pepper and chopped spring onions and stir-fry a few more moments.

Ingredients: small potatoes (500 grams), salted pepper, chopped spring onions and cooking oil

Sun Min

Hangzhou pepper stir-fried with wild bamboo shoots

Hangzhou pepper stir-fried with wild bamboo shoots 杭椒野笋

Hangzhou natives love visiting the hills and tea gardens around the West Lake on weekends to sip tea, play poker and enjoy a treat from a local grower’s market stall. A lot of ingredients are freshly picked from the backyard of the host. Some are rare in downtown markets.

Wild slender bamboo shoots are grown in the bamboo forests. They need to be peeled and cooked in water to get rid of the astringent taste and then sliced into pieces.

Cut a Hangzhou pepper in half and remove the seeds inside. People who love spices might like to keep them.

Stir-fry the bamboo shoots with pepper and potherb mustard, add a bit of salt and sugar and blend them well with the food.

Ingredients: wild bamboo shoots (500g), Hangzhou pepper (150g), snow mustard (100g), sugar, salt and cooking oil

Sun Min

Diced eight treasures in bean paste

Diced eight treasures in bean paste  八宝酱丁

This is a simple tapas dish that can boost your appetite if you feel weary because of the summer heat.

The eight treasures can be dices of pork, peeled prawns, shiitake, dried bean curd, red and green peppers, peas and peanuts.

The pork and peeled prawns must be coated in a mix of cornstarch, cooking wine, salt and egg white. Both ingredients and the peanuts are fried separately before anything else. Then stir-fry the bean paste for a few seconds, empty the rest of the ingredients in the wok and keep on stir-frying.

Pour in some water and cook with the lid on until everything is ready. Add sugar if you prefer and top up the dish with cooked peanuts and prawns.

Ingredients: pork (50g), peeled prawns (50g), peas (100g), 3 shiitake pieces, 1 dried bean curd piece, peanuts (50g), 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, bean paste, cooking wine, salt, corn starch, egg white, sugar and cooking oil

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